Chancellor of Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) and member of the Gaekwad royal family of Vadodara, Dr Mrunalini Devi Puar passed away after prolonged illness on Friday.
The royal family bid a tearful goodbye to the 83-year-old educationist as the flag of the Lukshmi Vilas Palace was lowered to half-mast early morning on Friday.
According to associates of the family, Puar, fondly called Akkaraje, had contracted a respiratory infection for the last ten days and was admitted to a city hospital. “Earlier, Akkaraje had severe health issues concerning kidney and was even on dialysis. However, she had come out strong from the illness. This time, her infection had become difficult to treat as doctors could not put her on to heavy medications due to her age,” said a close friend.
Members of the royal family, including Maharaja Samarjitsinh, accompanied Puar’s open truck funeral procession to the family’s royal cremation ground behind Kirti Mandir in the city.
Puar’s mortal remains, bedecked with roses, were brought to the Lukshmi Vilas Palace for public viewing before the procession that took off at 4pm. Several members of the MS University faculty poured in to offer respects, as well as politicians across parties. Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasma too arrived to pay floral tributes, accompanied by MLAs, local leaders and administrative officers.
However, estranged brother Sangramsinh Gaekwad and his family did not attend her last rites. Samarjitsinh’s wife, Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad and their two daughters too were absent as she was travelling, family sources said. Her nephew, Samarjitsinh, performed her last rites as Puar remained childless.
PM, CM CONDOLE
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled Puar’s passing away with a tweet saying, “I condole passing away of Mrunalini Devi Puar ji and pray that her soul attains eternal peace. Her contribution to society will be remembered. Mrunalini Devi Puar ji continued the Gaekwad family’s glorious tradition of service through education, including as MSU Chancellor. Puar, 83, took charge as the Chancellor of MSU in 1988 at the death of her older brother Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad. She was the first woman Chancellor of a recognized Indian University with more than 35,000 students. Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel too expressed her condolences saying, “Extremely saddened by the demise of MSU Chancellor Mrunalini Devi Puarji. Her contribution in educational sector will always be remembered.”
EDUCATION & LIFE
Puar, who was the Chancellor of MSU for over 25 years was the second of the eight children born of Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwad. She completed her schooling from Cambridge University in UK in 1947 and was a Gold medalist in Foods & Nutrition from MS University in 1970.
She completed her Masters in Food & Nutrition from Iowa State University of Science and Technology as a Mary Hunter Scholar as well as a Ph.D. in 1984 from MS University. Puar was married to HH Maharaja Anandrao IV Puar of Dhar state in Madhya Pradesh in 1950 but was estranged from her husband and returned to her maternal home soon after, where she lived until her last days.
In absence of a legal heir, Puar has been involved in property disputes with the family of Dhar.
Her estranged brother and youngest sibling Sangramsinh Gaekwad had accused her of forging the will of their mother, Rajmata Shanta Devi, giving rise to a litigation over the properties of the Gaekwad family in Baroda that lasted over 23 years. The dispute was ultimately settled in October 2013 between Sangramsinh and his nephew Samarjitsinh Gaekwad.